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XR Unleashed: The Future of Reality Tech

Jana Uthayakumar, Global Foresight, Data & Analytics Lead

“There is an appetite for XR experiences to break out of just entertainment. So there is a real chance for XR to make it into our daily lives. It can really break the mold of the mundane routines that we do by making it really more convenient for us.”

In this episode we welcome Jana Uthayakumar, Global Foresight, Data & Analytics Lead from the Ericsson ConsumerLab. With his unique blend of expertise in foresight, data, and analytics Jana provides insights into Extended Reality (XR) and Augmented Reality (AR), offering a glimpse into the next 3-5 years in this space. We explore the transition from mobile to XR devices and the exciting use cases that await us and take a look at the synergy between XR and AI, discussing the potential and ethical considerations. 

Find out how Ericsson is using GenAI for foresight and research, and get an insight into Jana's remarkable "Innovation Rockstar Moment". Tune in for a short but informative episode on the future of technology in innovation and foresight.

Below you will find the full transcript for the episode.

XR Unleashed: The future of reality tech

Chris: Hi guys, and welcome back to Innovation Rockstars. My name is Chris Mühlroth, and in this episode, I'm really excited to welcome Jana Uthayakumar. So Jana is Global Foresight Data and Analytics Lead, and I guess you're still based in Stockholm. Is that true?

Jana: Yes, that's right.

Chris: Yeah, Stockholm. Beautiful city. Been there a couple of years ago, but the nightlife of Stockholm is... That's not the topic for today, but it's really awesome. And Jana you also combine a unique blend of foresight, data, and analytics experience. Something that will be very helpful for today's conversation. So thanks a lot for joining us. It's a pleasure to have you on the Innovation Rockstars show.

Jana: Yeah, hello, and yeah, thank you for having me, and I really look forward to speaking to you today.

Chris: All right. And as always, we start straight away with a short 60-seconds introduction sprint. So the idea is really to have a short and concise monologue all about you, your career, and your current role. So, Jana, for the next 60 seconds, the stage is yours. Let's go.

Jana: Yeah, sure. So currently, as you mentioned, my role sits within Ericsson Consumer and Industry Lab. So we are a team that focuses on technological trends looking into the next 5, 10, 15, 20 years. But my background has predominantly been in marketing and data science for the better part of a decade. So I worked for market research agencies for a long time, where I'd work with external clients, try to understand typical business problems like marketing effectiveness, product, new product development, pricing, customer segmentations and the like. And I was lucky enough to have worked in many different categories. So from luxury car markets, to beers, to shampoo and conditioners, which I feel has really equipped me then to work in foresight in the current team that I am, because you really get to learn and understand people's attitudes, lifestyles, what leads to their behaviors at a global level. So yeah, it's been now over two years now that I've been at Consumer Lab, living in Stockholm, learning about the Swedish culture, Ericsson and its vast ecosystem. So my role today, though grounded in data and analytics, it does span multiple disciplines because I do lead projects, participate a lot in ideation with business stakeholders, scenario building, report writing, among other things. So yeah, look forward to telling you a little bit more about what I do and the projects I've been working on. Yeah, that's great.

Chris: Well that's great - thanks! And to get you know a little bit better, as we always do in the Innovation Rockstars podcast, I do have three sentence starters for you. So I would read the sentences, at least the sentence starters, and then I would like to ask you to complete those sentences, right? So let's get into it. And I'm really curious to hear how you would like to complete the sentences. Number one is: When I am not immersed in the world of technology and innovation, I love to…

Jana: …eat out in restaurants. So me and my wife both like to eat. So we like to go out and try out different cuisines. That's the beauty of being in a new city. Everything is a discovery. So we are sort of eating our way through Stockholm.

Chris: That's great. And what is one technology gadget or tool that you cannot live without? Don't say iPhone.

Jana: (laughter) I recently actually got noise-canceling earbuds, and honestly, they've been life-changing. I've been using them basically every day, and especially when I'm commuting or traveling on the train or on the plane, they're amazing.

Chris: Understood. Oh, yeah, that's fair. Okay, and one thing that most people do not know about working at Ericsson Consumer Lab is…?

Jana: Ericsson Consumer Lab actually has been around for almost 28 years within the organizations within Ericsson, though in different forms, it's a team that's been around for quite a while.

Chris: That is pretty long, nearly three decades. Right now we have 2023, so that is a fairly long time. Interesting. Okay, so let's do this now. Let's dive into some of the details. Maybe we'll talk a little bit further down the line about the actual ConsumerLab, but I would be interested first in talking about something that's been buzzing for a few years in the tech world now, which is extended reality and augmented reality. So XR, AR, maybe also VR, all these abbreviations that actually should extend and augment our reality. And I think you've been working on a report about this, which sheds light on some future developments. So can you maybe give us a sneak peek into that report? What's next in the upcoming three or maybe even five and 10 years horizon in that space?

Jana: Yeah, so the project or the study that we are currently working on is actually a follow-up from previous studies that we've done in the past. Some even dating back to 2017, where we released a study called “Merged Reality”, and 2019 even where we had the ”The Internet of Senses”. So Merged Reality goes from the idea that when the Internet was born, the world was divided into two halves, the offline and online world. But what if this world were starting to intertwine and these experiences could be, or experience in both ways and by leveraging AR, VR, so XR essentially. So back then we understood, and we looked into people that were early adopters and see what were their belief in these devices that could exist. And we saw that almost 50% of early adopters believe that by 2025, there will be lightweight AR glasses available for people to use. And now we are at almost the end of 2023, so let's say almost 2024, and we are quite far away from that to happen. So the purpose of this study that we're running today, or currently, is to see what is holding back this mainstream adoption. What does the current market look like? And so for that, we conducted a series of interviews among many startups and experts, but also ran our own quantitative study and interviewed people that are current users of devices, XR devices, whether they are using VR or AR devices, but also look at people that are using AR applications on their smartphone. So we have certain applications already, right? So we have Ikea Place, where you can look at furniture and sort of place them into your living room or, you know, any different rooms and see how it could look like. You have Google Lens, where you're able to translate immediately any sort of pictures. So there are different applications around it and see how people are using it. We are still sort of understanding while doing the main analysis, but what we can see today that there is obviously clearly an appetite for XR experiences. So we tested many different use cases and sort of those that are grounded in today, but also that could be quite novel. And there is an appetite for XR experiences to break out of just entertainment. So I think one of maybe the stigma of VR or to some extent is that, oh, it's only for gaming, for example, or it's only for watching movies. But I think what we're actually seeing is that beyond that, there is really an opportunity to enhance daily activities like real-time navigation or real-time translation tools. So there is a chance for XR to make it into our daily lives. It can really break the mold of the mundane routines that we do by making it really more convenient for us.

“Merged reality goes from the idea that when the internet was born, the world was divided into two halves, the offline and online world. But what if this world were starting to intertwine and these experiences could be, or experience in both ways and by leveraging AR, VR, so XR essentially.”

Chris: And I think you have a very good point here in making things more convenient, but also, frankly speaking, make it easier to use. So when just two years back, we were actually trying to refurbish our house. We actually ended up doing this with Adobe Photoshop and not with the Ikea app. And the simple reason was that, and this is actually plain stupid, but it was easier to do this with Photoshop than with any of the AR, VR, XR apps out there. Really getting into them, selecting the furniture, blah, blah, blah. It was so much easier to just get all the furniture with transparent background in the Photoshop and take a picture of the room and just place it there to get a feeling of how this would look like. So making things easy to use, I guess, is super important in integrating it, as you say, seamlessly into something. And the same for the variables. I totally agree. What could be a good path to transition, for example, from mobile devices, as we have it today, to more XR-like devices? Because for me, for example, I'm not used to wearing glasses. I may be used to wear sunglasses, but it would take some you know, convincing for, for example, people like me to now put on glasses every day that I'm not used to. So what could a possible transition path from today's mobile devices to XR look like?

Jana: Yeah. I think what we're seeing is the path, because of course, I think some of the talk is that XR or AR is supposed to replace the smartphone, but that's not something that we really believe. I mean, not at least in the next five to 10 years. What we see is almost a duality of the devices. So each device, the smartphone and XR device, will live together, and they will each serve their own purpose. Whereas we see that the smartphone perhaps is better for daily usage and for more at the moment usage, where you may be out and about, and you may need to use in their applications like let's say navigation or translations, where necessarily you didn't maybe plan to use AR experience, but you may need to, then the smartphone is really great at that. And to some extent, almost get people used to the tech itself. What does AR do for people? I mean, for example, for me, where I live in a country where I don't really speak the language, Google Lens has, you know, come to the rescue many different times. So that's, and then when we look at XR or AR glasses, of course, they have an advantage that the smartphone can't do because at the end of the day, a smartphone does have limited field of view, and you probably don't want to use it for too long because you're holding up your phone in the air, and then it gets tiring. And we see that as one of the key challenges in people that are using AR applications today, that they feel that, yeah, holding up your phone for a long time is not really great. So there's a form factor issue. And really, the beauty of XR is this immersiveness, right? So to feel immersed, you sort of need to have this more of this vision that covers sort of your vision to some extent. And then you start adding those senses. I mentioned this report that we had done called “The Internet of Senses”. And this was looking at beyond what you see, what are the other senses that can be leveraged to give you more of an immersion? So we talked about touch. Now we talk about haptic feedback to some extent. That could be one where you have also the ear, you know, listening into certain things. I mean, now with my earbuds, I can, there’s a functionality - they call it ‘ambient mode’, right? So if I'm walking, I can listen to things, but then there's a voice that sort of only voices can get through. And I saw that there was a leak from the next Samsung XR device that potentially could have smell into it. So really those elements, I'm not sure how they're going to do it. But well, I mean, it's interesting to see that this is where, you know, the big players are trying to move forward. It's not immersion, it's not just one sense, but it's multiple senses. And this is something that we've seen in our previous studies. And of course, that part would probably help get an appeal into people into trying out more AI application. But the first thing is, before the barrier to entry, which is before buying an XR device, try using it on a smartphone. Start doing it. See how it's useful for them. And then slowly, they will potentially get a device and so on.

"We don't think XR or AR will replace the smartphone. At least not in the next five to ten years. What we see is almost a duality of devices. So each device, the smartphone and the XR device, will live together and each will serve its own purpose."

Chris: Yeah, and let's maybe talk about some of those exact use cases that could really work and that maybe you're personally excited about. Because I'm thinking, for example, of Samsung's announcement that they're going to release a mixed reality headset in 2023. And I saw this, which included this giant pair of glasses in front of you, plus some headphones. And if you wear that for even an hour or two, it's probably going to be really annoying because it's so massive. It's bulky. It has a certain weight to it. And you also have, for example, headphones on for an even better experience. I'm not talking about putting something in your nose, maybe if you want to smell something. You know, it just doesn't feel as intuitive. It's just actually travelling to a real place and imagining, for example, experiencing the world there. But I get it. Maybe we can talk about some of the future use cases, really, from a consumer perspective, but also from a B2B perspective, that seem promising.

Jana: Yeah, I think that there's quite a few, but the ones that I find most interesting is tourism. Because we can see that from a consumer perspective, there is a high interest among consumers in enhancing touristic experiences related and even adjacent to just the touristic experience itself. Like I mentioned, real time navigation and translations. These are use cases that will be really useful when people are traveling and so on. So what I think it's most interesting from an augmented reality perspective, it could be a real market for the tourism industry to enhance experiences and potentially that could even become the standard for the industry where consumers expect certain AR services to be offered whenever they're visiting certain landmarks and so on. But within the same area of tourism, I think there's also an appetite for VR tourism. So while you're not actually traveling there, but you're actually in your home and potentially visit a place or destination from the comfort of your home. So from a consumer perspective, it can, of course, save money, let's say, or it could be a convenient way of exploring cities from where you are. But what does that mean for the local tourism economy, right? What does that mean for actual businesses in certain cities that we know that when people are not physically there to spend money, like Barcelona or Paris, or the like? I mean, we saw that during COVID, a lot of the money that was generated through tourism, was missing. I mean, it could be that either way, either when you experience something in VR, it triggers something that, you know, you want to go and visit the city in the real life. Maybe it helps actually open up an appetite for those cities. I had a colleague who actually said something interesting that when she comes back, and she tries, she explores the city through VR, that she's already been to almost relive those memories, which I find, which I think was quite interesting. I mean, we saw that one of the features for the iPhone 15 was this spatial video capturing, which I find was quite interesting. And we know, of course, the Apple Vision Pro, it's more of a device that's supposed to be used at home, because of course, there's only have a two-hour battery life and so on. But what I found quite intriguing is this ability to then capture spatial videos, but then you come back home, and you consume them in an immersive environment in your home. So that, perhaps, could be potentially something that people could do at home, re-living those memories or re-living those places that you visited. He could go either way. I'm not sure if he's going to cannibalize the tourism industry, or he's actually going to grow it. That's something I think to observe.

"One of the most interesting future VR use cases is tourism, although I'm not sure if it's going to cannibalize the tourism industry or actually help it grow. I think it's something to watch."

Chris: You know what would help me quite a lot from a consumer perspective? If IKEA helped me provide 3D manuals for building the stuff I do, right? Maybe that's on me, right? But I'm not the most, you know, I'm not that most crafty. So, you know what I mean? So I'm good at different things, but maybe not in these types of things. So if there was an easy way to do that, right? To see 3D manuals in front of me, okay, this is where I need to put the screw, then you need to do this, ba-ba-ba-ba. This, you know, piece 27 out of 576 that's in the package fits here, ba-ba-ba-ba. You know, this would, for example, help me a lot. I can also, you know, imagine some training and learning use cases, for example. These could be healthy, but for travel, this is interesting and maybe can indeed help some of the places around the world with tourism. Sure, why not?

Jana: Yeah, I think we see multiple. I mean, this one is especially interesting for me personally, because it's just almost a conundrum. It's like, ‘Okay, what's going to happen?’. It's almost this VR, AR element. But yeah, like you said, there are many different use cases. I mean, people’s virtual home planning is obviously an interesting one, daily enhancements. Of course, entertainment is also a big one as well, with sports, gaming, video streaming. And I think that's sort of the beauty of us here as XR, is that it's just not for one pub. It can apply to many aspects of our lives. But yeah, this IKEA one, I think now that you mentioned it, yeah, I could really do with that as well. I think probably save a lot of arguments in the household with that. Yeah, I'd love that.

Merging XR and AI - a natural fit?

Chris: Now let's go one step further. Let's merge the worlds of XR, which again, includes all the different augmented, virtual, extended reality discussions and artificial intelligence or any means of, AI. How could these two technologies complement each other?

Jana: Yeah, well, if we think about AI in the world of XR, it's actually been used for many years now, especially more in the back end of things, I would say. So developers have been using it from a technical point of view to develop applications and so on. Now, I think if I take XR and maybe generative AI to some extent, then they are both general purpose technologies. So for me, it sounds like it's a natural fit and The combination of uses for them are probably immense and quite vast. The typical use that I've seen is this ability to generate images on the go as you move, whether it's for entertainment purposes, where you could adapt books or text that could be instantly turned into an immersive experience tailored to you. I think Roblox is actually leading the way in some sense. I've seen that they have created in their own sort of Roblox environment where people can create objects or things using generative AI. So from text, which I think is quite interesting. One use case that I thought was quite interesting that I heard on a panel was using generative AI personas to bootstrap chat rooms in the metaverse to some extent, which I thought was quite interesting because I think one of the challenges at the moment with these virtual chat rooms is the lack of people, right? I mean, you have a high volume, maybe of chat rooms, and maybe you have like five people in each of them. So it's a little bit hard to get community going in that sense. And this idea of bootstrapping and using virtual personas, I thought was quite innovative way of doing it. So you sort of start and then as more people come in, you sort of decrease the number of digital personas, and you fill the room with real people to some extent.

Chris: Can you maybe also share if there are any technical or no - ethical considerations when blending that? That'd be even more interesting because technical, sure, we all know that this is progressing and there are obvious challenges, but are there any, yeah, ethical considerations, for example, when blending XR with artificial intelligence? And if so, what are those?

Jana: I think, I mean, of course there's a lot of discussion about AI ethics today. A lot of the discussions, of course, are about, you know, AI and what you train the model on and so on. I think we're waiting for Gemini from Google, I think it's supposed to come out next month, one of the novel parts of it is that it's going to be multimodal, right? So it's going to be able to take pictures, video, anything, and then be able to give you an output of those modes as well. And we know with XR for example, one of the ways it works is it has cameras, right? So it has external cameras looking out there. So those are the things that maybe we need to think about, okay, when we combine these kinds of inputs, it's always collecting information. How does that work from a usage perspective? How can you sort of put the guardrails in place so that you know, you're not sort of using training data or using this data from video or images without the right guardrails that have been put in place to some extent. So that's sort of the main thing that I can think of when it comes to XR and AI, but of course with AI, I mean, that's a huge discussion at the moment. I think they both have their separate things going on. With XR, like I said, there's this element of privacy that has to be taken into account. Obviously, as a user, you want to be able to use an XR device when you want to. But how would you feel if you were a bystander to some extent, if you were essentially part of someone else's experience? So I think there's a lot of social acceptance that needs to come through in that sense. I mean, we see studies where we see that if someone is wearing AR glasses, for example, and the other person is not, then the person who is not feels really uncomfortable being part of that experience to some extent. And if that person is maybe using some sort of personal AI assistant that's sort of analyzing you and what you're saying and giving you hints, I mean, how comfortable would someone feel to some extent, I think. So that's the kind of consideration that kind of jumps out at me, I'd say.

“No matter if AI or XR - they both have ethical discussions going on. With XR, there's this element of privacy that has to be taken into account. How would you feel if you were a bystander to some extent, if you were essentially part of someone else's experience?”

Chris: Okay, and I'd be interested in how you leverage also XR, and maybe also already XR and AR at Ericsson. But before we move to some of the lessons learned, Jana, let's play a quick game. It's Rapid Fire Round. It's a very simple game. The idea of the game is speed, right? So I do ask a question, and then you need to answer fast. Don't think for too long. It's three rapid fire questions. Simple. Number one: First thing you do when you wake up?

Jana: Look at my phone.

Chris: Ah, you look at your phone. But not at your VR goggles, but your phone still.

Jana: Not yet, yeah. It takes a little bit longer for that.

Chris: Fair enough. Okay, number two: What do you think is the most futuristic city in the world and why?

Jana: I want to say Seoul. I've never actually been there, but when you say futuristic city, I feel Seoul. I mean, I've done a lot of studies from South Korea, and I feel like they are sort of ahead when it comes to adoption of technology and so on. So yeah, Seoul.

Chris: Okay, great recommendation. Thanks. And if you had, I mean, it's hard, but if you had just one word to describe the future of XR, what would that word be?

Jana: Exciting.

Chris: Why exciting?

Jana: Because it's new. It's not something we've experienced before. Just the idea. I mean, something as simple as watching movies. I mean, to be able to do that, like having a cinema in your home. And then when, as I said, these internal senses develop, I mean, to have these additional senses to your experience from this convenience, I think that's really exciting for me. And the other part is these things that we do on a daily basis. I mean, some people like to put things together, like the IKEA furniture, but some people don't. And for those, it sort of removes that boring or annoying part of things and makes it, it could make it exciting or gamify experiences that are really mundane.

Foresight at Ericsson

Chris: Yeah. Okay. Okay. All right. Yeah, that's fair. Now as I introduced you as having quite a unique blend of skills, that includes foresight, expertise methodology, but also data and analytics expertise, which I think is super interesting. Let's go one step further and talk about foresight at Ericsson, how you come to these conclusions, how you guys work at also the lab. So first question is, do you actually use XR yourself at Ericsson and where and how?

“We have an ongoing weekly half hour every Friday morning where we actually play games where you can virtually shoot at your manager. So that's always a good way to remove some stress.”

Jana: Yeah, so we use XR in meetings. So we try to have meetings in that into... I can't call it the metaverse anymore, but you know, the sort of digital environment. We don't do it as often, to be honest, but on a weekly basis, we have an ongoing weekly half an hour every Friday morning where actually we play games. I haven't attended them in a few weeks now, but I know it's still ongoing where you get to shoot virtually at your manager. So that's always a one way to remove some stress.

Chris: That is interesting. With the manager in the room or without?

Jana: Yeah, he's in the virtual room. So we all are home and then the manager also joins. And if he really annoyed you during the week, then you get to really shoot at him.

Chris: Well, that's interesting. Let's take this offline Jana and discuss on a side note. But yeah, that's a nice use case, actually. So for getting maybe rid of some of the frustrations you have. Cool one. Yeah, okay. Any more other use cases you use this for except for basically shooting at your managers at Ericsson?

Jana: Yes, I think so, at the moment mainly for sessions. It's more work for us. We have done research in the past in the metaverse or in some kind of virtual environment to bring people into that environment, especially when we want to interview them, for example consumers, and have them think of a certain scenario or try to be in a space that helps them to put themselves in that scenario. So we used that in that respect as well.

Chris: Okay. Now, if we add the data analytics skills to all the foresighting work that you guys do, how do you, for example, use, as we discussed prior to the recording today, how do you use, for example, GenAI for research, for foresight, for ideation? Maybe you could just guide us through in how your process looks like and what tools you use, for example, GenAI and also others? Where you get the data from, how to analyze it, and how you guys do research over there?

Jana: Yeah, maybe even without Gen AI, right? I mean, we only had access to it for a couple of months now. But I think what I find interesting, or one of the unique aspects of foresight, really, and a challenging part is that there's not really a right answer. All you can do is reduce the uncertainty of the foresight based on numerous sources of information. So what we do is We conduct usually a lot of experts interviews, we do our own primary research, we look at media monitoring, so social media trends, and then also look at, from a technical point of view, what are the technological developments in a particular area? So, okay, there's all this demand, this is what people say, but from a tooling’s perspective, what are the people working on the actual hardware saying, or the software? Another key assets for us in ConsumerLab, and as mentioned, we've been around for 28 years, is that we have accumulated a lot of data over the course through these studies. So this is a unique quality for our team. So we're able to access that and look how perceptions, views, behaviors have changed over the past three decades and really look at the emergence of certain technological cycles. I mean, we've been able to see and go back and see, look at the emergence of the smartphone and how people's views were when the smartphone actually came out and how across many different countries the adoption rate has sort of improved and increased to some extent. So looking back on that, you can really help to understand foresight and really what has already happened in the past and what type of underlying needs were being fulfilled by different tools. So when we do a new report, we tend to base it on multiple studies. And as I mentioned, we then we do primary research through quantitative surveys to sort of help complement these gaps in our understanding on a topic.

“So looking back on that can really help to understand the foresight and really what has happened in the past and what kind of underlying needs have been met by different tools.”

And then when it comes to generative AI, I mean, I think there are different parts of it. I mean, there's more of the helping us in the operational part of things, I'll say in the process, maybe in the ideation phase, to some extent. So when back in January or February, I put together this sort of document where see where are the gaps where generative AI could start helping us in our research project. And what I've got to understand is that it can actually help us throughout the different phases of it. So firstly, in the ideation phase, okay, what is the topic that we want to research? Where do we want to sort of deep dive into it? Why is this topic useful? And what it can do is it can really help scratch the surface, really, because at the moment, of course, we still need to have this critical thinking, add it to it and say, ‘OK, well, this is good and this is not bad to some extent’ due to what our needs are. But you can really exhaust a lot of the ideas to some extent, which I think was quite useful. Then you can help you in the design of the study of the methodology. OK, what type of methodology you want to do. Then in the analysis stage, and then when you're actually writing the report, and us, Ericsson, we have different type of stakeholders, people that have different needs, and so on. So this really helps us put ourselves in the shoes of different stakeholders as well, and say, okay, this is an insight that could be interesting for this, team or this partner or this customer, but how is this also useful for completely different stakeholders? So this really helps you, again, almost like a thinking partner that has this expertise in many different areas, I would say.

“GenerativeAI helps you almost like a thinking partner who has that expertise in many different areas.”

Chris: How is this organized? Does the team work independently or are you getting requests from certain teams and business partners to help them come up with new ideas or at least with some insights based on your foresight in work?

Jana: I think a bit of both. We come up with our research topics, we do have to do a lot of reading. And usually it also comes from a lot of discussion. So through the year, we have a lot of customer interactions. So we talked to a lot of customers of Ericsson, we talked to our stakeholders in Ericsson research, but also in the business units, in the marketing teams. And that's what happens throughout the year. So when we do come up with a research topic, it tends to be quite relevant. But then, once we come up with a topic, we tend to put together this sort of research proposal, which we then present to our stakeholders and really get some inputs. So it's a working collaboration, but we do come up with the idea, but the idea doesn't come from just us, for example, it's sort of based on a lot of discussions.

Chris: Okay, got it. Can you maybe share an instance where the foresight reports or maybe even predictions actually impacted a critical business decision or a strategy at Ericsson?

Jana: So one thing I can think about is if you think back to the early stages of 5G in 2019, 2018. Most of the conversations around 5G were quite enterprise-focused, particularly from the industry itself. So a lot of industry analysts and so on thought that 5G was more for enterprise solutions like manufacturing, mining. And some of the myths were that there wasn't really a consumer benefit to it. There were no real use cases for it. But then in 2019, ConsumerLab did a study called '5G consumer potential' where we looked at use cases that could really benefit from 5G from a consumer perspective. And not just use cases that were grounded at the time, but new use cases that could be. And I think that's one of the benefits of being a Foresight team, is that we can think beyond what people were doing at the time, or what the technology allowed you to do, but you go beyond that and say, well, this technology is useful if this happens. So we looked at consumer use cases across different industries, from automotive to social communication and entertainment. And that really helped the company, or Ericsson, to balance the narrative between enterprise and consumer and really bring in the outside perspective that these are really 5G consumer use cases beyond what it was originally intended for. So that really helps to spark the broad conversation within the organization to take into account and really equip our colleagues in the regions, but also in the business units, when they're having these conversations with people in the industry or even customers.

“Foresight really helps to spark the broad conversation within the organization to take into account and really equip our colleagues in the regions, but also in the business units, when they're having these conversations with people in the industry or even customers.”

The future potential of GenAI in innovation & foresight

Chris: So that's a great impact, a great success story. Congratulations to this one. Now, if we try to do some foresight for foresight and maybe also for innovation do you see that there's any future potential, for example, for using generative AI for foresight and innovation? Or would you also argue that this is totally overhyped and cannot be used, and maybe the future for foresight and innovation looks differently? What is your personal take on this?

Jana: Yeah, I think at the moment if you think about foresight, and as you mentioned, you think about different scenarios. So you think about a potential scenario that could happen based on all of your input and all of these discussions that you've had, and you say, okay, in 10 years time, this is what I think could happen for a particular issue. And you based that on your knowledge of technology and cultural differences, geopolitical agendas and so on. And then you go back to today, and you think, okay, these are the sequential steps that need to happen for this scenario to happen. And I think what you could do with generative AI is help you build the scenarios in the form, potentially in the form of simulations, right? What if you could, I mean we know there are agents, AI agents, where you give it the end goal and then the AI itself works out the steps that it needs to do for that goal to happen. Maybe AI agents could help you get there. Or what if we could immerse ourselves in these worlds? So if we believe that in 10 years time there will be a mainstream of AR where 80% of the population will be wearing AR, but you want to understand the ethical considerations that you need to take into account, what if you could somehow simulate the world like that? And then you can immerse yourself in it and really think about it, or help you understand that world to get a deeper assessment of it and think about its implications. So what GenAI could really do is bring foresight to innovation, to bring those ideas to life in a matter of minutes or even seconds. The other part, I think, is that you can really empower employees or team members with different skill sets to be able to use their visions or bring them to life without feeling like there are barriers to that or really feeling like they have to have areas of expertise. So if we take our team - I mean, we are quite a diverse team with people with a background in data and analytics, like myself, we have academic researchers, anthropologists, microeconomists, sustainability researchers and so on - but we all help each other understand certain issues. But maybe not every team or not everyone has access to these experts. And this could really help to break down some of those barriers that people might feel in terms of using these different elements or using generative AI. But I think one thing that we also need to be careful about is that we don't fall into the trap that high volume is better. Just because you can generate a high volume of scenarios in an instant doesn't mean it's better. You know, you still have to critically evaluate them and really think about a particular scenario and see, okay, is this relevant to our business or not. I mean I had this discussion with a colleague the other day when she said she used Dali to create images, but then she ended up in this sort of rabbit hole where she ended up with like thousands of images. She said, oh no, I've had too many choices. So I think that's also part of it.

“What we need to be careful about is that we don't fall into the trap that high volume is better. Just because you can generate a high volume of scenarios in an instant doesn't mean it's better.”

Chris: Yeah, it's certainly not. I agree. Okay, well, we've come quite far, Jana. Now, as we wrap up this episode, what would be your three key and very actionable recommendations that you want listeners to take away from this episode with you today?

Jana: I'd say the first one is to diversify your sources of information. Don't necessarily stick to one methodology or one type of information. I think it's very tempting to just want to do, okay, let's do a study, let's do a survey and get all our answers from that. Try to get as much as you can, especially when it comes to foresight, as I said, there's no right answer. So really getting as much information as possible from different sources would be a good way of getting a picture of the future that is as uncertain as possible, I would say, to some extent. Then secondly, I would say, especially when you're thinking about the foresight ideation phase, don't be afraid of the wacky, crazy ideas. You know, something that seems so far away from today's reality. But when you think about that idea, or whatever trend you think could happen, try to think about what steps would have to happen from today for that scenario to happen. And that could really help you to even test it, but also to understand if it's really possible. And number three, I would say, don't be afraid to reach out to strangers in the industry. I mean, we have, we're lucky now with LinkedIn. It's easy to find people with similar backgrounds or similar interests or even people with completely different backgrounds or completely different interests. But what's nice about our, let's say, if we're just looking forward, the people who work in it tend to be very curious and open-minded people. And you'd be surprised how open people are when you approach them, and you're not trying to sell them anything, you just want to have a chat. That's something I've done in the past, and it's always opened up so many broader discussions with people.

Chris: Yeah, it does. All right. And Jana, I also have to ask you for your Innovation Rockstar moment. If you look back at the professional career so far, tell me, what was your greatest Innovation Rockstar moment so far that you want to share with the community?

Jana: Yeah. So my favorite moment, it's probably one that sounds boring on paper, but for me, it was an automation of producing a large number of reports for localized markets. So when I first joined the team two years ago, we would do global studies, and we would sometimes have almost 30 to 35 markets, and we would then create a more personalized version of it for each market so that it's more relevant for them. At that time there were reports with a lot of charts and a lot of data that had to be manually edited out. So when I came in, I tried to look at that and tried to write a script that would basically automate that process. So it would automate the creation, the updating of the charts, and to some extent some of the text for each market, which would then obviously save a lot of time for our members, so that people didn't have to do this mundane task of just manually going in and editing text. So that was what I was doing at the time. And I think, of course, that's only part of the innovation. I think to some extent, of course, once you have these 30 reports, people start to go through them and understand them and give you that little additional opinion or insight of how they think. But I think, and again, maybe with generative AR, that could help us take it a little bit further and maybe be in that kind of inner body that can help you take that innovation or that automation even further.

Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Well, I don't think it sounds boring. That's a great moment to share. Thanks very much. And yeah, with that, we already close this episode. Jana, thanks so much again for being my guest. It was a pleasure to listen and very interesting to understand and hear from Ericsson also your perspective, your personal perspective, about the use of, yeah, especially XR, VR for consumers. Maybe also a few industrial applications, but clearly we have been focusing more on consumer applications. So thanks for sharing this. I'm curious to see how this is going to play out in the next five years or so. And thanks for being my guest. It was a pleasure.

Jana: Yeah, thank you. It was really nice to talk to you. I think we covered quite a wide amount of topics today. So thank you for having me and discussing this topic. These are obviously topics that I'm quite passionate about. So it's always nice to talk about these. And again, as you mentioned, we have a report that we're working on at the moment, which is supposed to come out early next year.

Chris: Wonderful. All right. Thank you for sharing this. And to everybody listening or watching, if you enjoyed this episode, then simply leave us a comment or drop us an email at Now that's it. Thank you for listening. See you soon. Take care. Bye-bye.

Show notes

Studies and reports to which Jana refers in this interview can be found here:

About the authors

Dr. Christian Mühlroth is the host of the Innovation Rockstars podcast and CEO of ITONICS. Jana Uthayakumar is Global Foresight, Data & Analytics Lead at the Ericsson ConsumerLab.

The Innovation Rockstars podcast is a production of ITONICS, provider of the world’s leading Operating System for Innovation. Do you also have an inspiring story to tell about innovation, foresight, strategy or growth? Then shoot us a note!



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